Other Literary Forms
Apart from the three plays, two epic poems and two lyric poems are commonly ascribed to Klidsa. Most critics agree that the lyrics—Ṛtusaṃhra (c. 75 b.c.e. or c. 365 c.e.; English translation, 1867) and Meghadta (c. 65 b.c.e. or c. 375 c.e.; The Cloud Messenger, 1813)—are earlier compositions, and the epics—Kumrasambhava (c. 60 b.c.e. or c. 380 c.e.; The Birth of the War-God, 1879) and Raghuvaṃa (c. 50 b.c.e. or c. 390 c.e.; The Dynasty of Raghu, 1872-1895)—appear to be contemporaneous with the plays, among Klidsa’s later work. In addition, many scholars over the years have attributed numerous pieces of doubtful authenticity to Klidsa. These apocrypha span the literary gamut from religious hymns to astrological treatises to erotic verses, but their authorship remains questionable on stylistic grounds.
As in the plays, love is the unifying passion in the lyric poems of Klidsa. Ṛtusaṃhra paints in its six cantos the six Indian seasons as perceived through the eyes of one in love. The depiction of lovers in union in that poem is countered by the theme of lovers separated in The Cloud Messenger, which has as its central metaphor one of the most charming romantic conceits of all literature: a cloud personified as the go-between carrying a message from lover to beloved, who pine away for each other, parted by vast distances. The epics, however, are of a somewhat different temper. The Birth of the War-God treats the mythological union of iva, the Hindu god of destruction, and Prvat, his consort, representing the principles of Good and Beauty respectively. Their son Kumra, the god of war, symbolizes the power born to crush evil in the world. The elaborate, quasihistorical The Dynasty of Raghu presents the ideal virtues of legendary Indian kings and heroes, perhaps as an implicit guide to rulers of Klidsa’s own time. Despite their more conventional elevated approach, both epics are infused with Klidsa’s characteristic poetic style.
Klidsa is unanimously recognized as India’s national poet, the foremost literary exponent of the Indian consciousness. Since his own lifetime, his works have signified the zenith of literary accomplishment in India, unrivaled in every genre that he attempted. His life also conveniently marks a turning point dividing old and new, serving as a watershed between the classical and romantic periods in Sanskrit literature. Most important, perhaps, by distilling abstract virtues into human form he converted Vedantic philosophy into easily comprehensible literature with more success than most of his predecessors and virtually all of his successors. Consequently, many of his couplets or quatrains have passed into the popular vocabulary as proverbs and maxims, and he has attained cult stature among average Indians, arguably as much as his precursors, the epic poets Vysa and Vlmki, becoming, like them, the much-beloved subject of several folktales.
According to tradition, “Of literary forms drama is the most pleasing; and of dramas akuntal; and in akuntal the fourth act; and in that act four verses”—alluding to Kanva’s valedictory remarks to the heroine before she leaves his hermitage. Klidsa made significant changes in Sanskrit drama, especially introducing the note of the delicate and often heartrending lyricism that has enchanted commentators ever since. The strict norms of Sanskrit dramaturgy in no way inhibited him. Working for the most part within their boundaries, he did not discard the prevailingly austere tone but raised it to a level of dignity. He did not ignore conventions but rather crystallized each into diamonds. He developed the art of characterization and simultaneously introduced a heightened intensity as well as a relative realism. Above all, he explored in depth the ringra (erotic) rasa as no one had before him, exhausting its possibilities. His poetry won for him as much fame as did his drama. Although both of his epics are incomplete, critics acknowledge them as models in their genre (the courtly, or...
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